Before Kristopher Sharp even knew the final results of this month's student body vote at the University of Houston-Downtown, he learned that there was a petition circulating that was already demanding an election recall. The petition was simply the latest move in a remarkably vicious smear campaign against Sharp, a third-year social work major, who was seeking a place in the student body government along with Isaac Valdez.
Sharp had already had to deal with an as-yet-unidentified individual peppering the campus with flyers highlighting Sharp's HIV-positive status. "DON'T SUPPORT THE Isaac and Kris HOMOSEXUAL AGENDA," they read. But not only did the flyers out Sharp's health situation, they also pasted his medical records on the back of the papers, allowing the 14,000-strong student body a glimpse into a part of their peer's life that no one should have had. Graffiti later pockmarked bathroom stalls, urging students to avoid voting for the students who would bring "AIDS" to campus.
Now, during the weeklong vote, the pre-emptive petition began making the rounds. It was the latest salvo in the dirtiest election the campus had likely ever seen.
"Through the entire process, there was a lot of negativity -- the petition, the graffiti, the flyers, the rumors." Sharp told Hair Balls. "It was like the [David] Dewhurst and [Ted] Cruz election. But we never once resorted to doing something like that."
Instead, Sharp relied on his record of work within the LGBT community, and Valdez on his efforts among those tied to immigration issues. Sharp talked with concerned students who approached him, worried about the depths to which those smearing him had settled. He shared his ideas for what could be accomplished -- a resource center devoted to diversity; a slate of healthy, green initiatives -- should he and Valdez win.
But as the week of voting wound down, all he could do was wait for the final results.
"I told a couple people that I had prepared myself for both outcomes," Sharp said. "If we lose, it's fine -- we can still work with the university and in the community. But something kind of told me we were going to win."
And then, a text from Valdez. The results were in. Sharp was going to be the newest vice president at UHD.
"I immediately felt really, really humbled," Sharp remembers. "I felt like my peers could really see through all the fanatics to see my true character, perhaps what I've done in the community."
Sharp says he didn't see any negativity from the peers who approached him. Rather, he noted just how concerned many were about his reaction and how the situation had affected him. He thanked his peers time and again throughout Thursday's interview, noting the connectivity that UHD provides among students.
As it is, the university has not made much headway in the investigation. UHD Media Relations Director Clair Caton said the investigation has not yet been completed, but that she would check with the officials in charge and provide an update when she heard back.
As before, though, Sharp refrained from calling for any punitive damages.
"The great thing about UHD is that averyone has the opportunity to get an education," said Sharp, noting that he wouldn't like to see the student, whom he believes he knows, expelled. "But if there's some type of risk management program where they could be monitored, and not really allowed to do something like this again, that would be good."
However, despite the fact that no one's yet been held responsible for the smear campaign, Sharp noted that the university has pledged $100,000 to help fund the diversity resource center he hopes to help create. While there are a few steps before the center can be fully funded, Sharp reiterated that he feels the university has taken the right steps following the flyers' initial appearances.
"I think it says that they're willing to invest in ensuring that everyone does have an opportunity here," Sharp said. "Just the fact that they said [the center] is important means a lot to us, and is telling me that they do want to address these issues."
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.